It is undeniable that the DJs and producers manufacturing their cutting edge sounds drive the electronic music community. As a result, they often garner the majority of the scene’s attention. But, just like any community, the bass subculture is made up of a number of factions and contributors. Visual artists play a huge role in EDM communities. Often they create the entire aesthetic of a show, and ultimately the vibe of an event. From behind the scenes these artists engender the themes of various shows, tours and festivals, and have become an integral part of our community.
One such virtuoso is Andreas Tiedemann, a visual artist whose creative vision has been behind a lot of ‘oooohs’ and ‘ahhhhhs’ in his career. Andreas has been a pillar in the bass community for many years, and chances are, if you have been to Shambhala Music Festival; attended Skrillex’s Full Flex Express Tour; or are a graffiti enthusiast, you may already be familiar with his impressive body of work. Andreas invited All You Need is Bass to his secret underground art lair in Calgary for a glimpse into graffiti culture and the day-to-day happenings of an ‘underground’ artist. Shared between five surreptitious artists of the mostly graffiti persuasion, the space is alive with the vibe of creation and the smell of paint, littered with more Montana cans and canvases than one would think imaginable.
In addition to the studio tour, Andreas obliged us with a Q&A about life on tour with Skrillex, his graffiti crew aptly names WHRS Crew and his work at the Village Stage.
K. Lea: Can you tell me a bit about how you first got started with painting? Was that the first art form you started practicing?
Andreas Tiedemann: I’ve been painting forever. First my mom used to do crafts and stuff with me way back when I was a kid. She showed me a little bit, like how to use a brush and stuff like that, so she was always quite creative and what not. We always did finger painting, and then I got really into comic books and started drawing my own. I was a big Todd McFarlane fan. I think it was in grade seven or eight when a German exchange student came from Berlin, and I was the only kid that spoke German so naturally we became friends. He showed me the ropes so to speak about tagging. We got the gears going.
That’s when you got into graffiti street art?
[quote style=”boxed” float=”right”]One night magically a mural appeared on the wall of the 7-11. It just blew my mind![/quote] A: Yeah it wasn’t even street art then, it was like, tags on dumpsters. Across the street from our junior high there was a 7-11, and one night magically a mural appeared on the wall of the 7-11. It just blew my mind! It said LINC and had an ominous character holding a spray can with a backpack. I can still remember it in my head; I wish I had photos of it. Another reason I got into it was a mural done by Pesto, my now best friend. That was the first real spray paint graffiti that I encountered.
So, then you knew you wanted to do that and started actively pursuing it?
A: Yeah, pretty much gave up everything else and started it up. At that time there wasn’t really Internet, so I just kind of kept going with it, and I’d just get any information I could get from anybody about it. I basically met all the wrong people in the beginning. I still stuck with it in high school and kept going.
Then you got into other kinds of painting later?
[quote style=”boxed” float=”right”]I had a teacher that said graffiti was not a viable artistic medium. So, I finished my year and quit art school.[/quote] A: Yeah, it kind of started from not having money for Christmas presents, and being forced to have to squeeze something out. I really only painted when it was close to Christmas, and then after high school I’d already been caught for graffiti and had gotten into a lot of trouble, so I started at the Alberta College of Art and Design and met a few other guys equally interested in graffiti and drinking, and we did a lot of both. Some of those guys I’m still friends with until this day, and we still do art together to this day, if we’re still in the same town. At that time there was no Banksy, and graffiti wasn’t even all that cool. I had high school friends making fun of me for buying paint. I remember I had a teacher that said graffiti was not a viable artistic medium. So, I finished my year and quit art school.
You do quite a bit of live painting at shows. What led you to that? Is there any type of show in particular you like doing that at and how do you think it adds to the show?
A: It adds a little bit more of a cultural dynamic. Instead of people just going and getting fucked up and watching a DJ play they can watch something else too. I’m trying to think of the first time I did a live painting …
Did you do it as a means to make money or to add a little bit of culture?
A: Both. I never thought I’d make any money the first time I did it and I made quite a bit.. People were super stoked on it. I was always kind of into the rave culture, but I was never allowed to go. I got asked to do some graffiti at a rave and that’s how I slowly got into ‘the scene’. That was about 2001-ish. I’ve done all kinds of different shows now. The first time I did it at a big show was at the Bassnectar show at the Polish Canadian Hall, and that was a hit. I raffled the painting off, and people were just stoked on it. So, I started doing that and just started painting at parties to get in for free. I did it at lots of jungle parties, and we started kind of getting asked to do graffiti at lots of shows, which graduated into the live painting. I left Calgary and kind of paved the way for a lot of other graffiti kids to sort of take over that. I started doing the same thing in Victoria at the after hours place with my buddy Mikhail Miller who I was living with at the time.
You’re part of the WHRS Crew, a pretty reputable graf crew. How long were you painting before you got linked up with those guys?
[quote style=”boxed” float=”right”]I just found the jungle scene to be a little more welcoming to any kind of art and expression[/quote] A: The WHRS Crew was started by me and Pesto. We basically felt like we were kind of outcasts in the graffiti community because we listened to punk rock and heavy metal. Graffiti at that time was very hip hop oriented. You were a breakdancer or an MC, and every breakdancer was a tagger, and we kind of wanted to say fuck that. After the punk scene kind of fizzled here in Calgary I graduated to the jungle community. I found it to be far more welcoming for arts. You would never see someone painting at a metal show. I guess there’s going to be haters in every crowd, but I just found the jungle scene to be a little more welcoming to any kind of art and expression.
Who else is involved in the WHRS Crew? It started with you and Pesto …
A: Our other member was Roman C, our first non-graffiti member. We felt that if all these other crews had breakdancers and MCs we should have a skateboarder, because that’s more punk rock. He would have been the third member. We slowly added other members like CKER and Cypha. Basically there’s a few other members and we were sort of the anti hip hop graffiti crew. We didn’t care how great your stuff was. It was more about your heart and what you put into it. Some people have to work really hard at what they do, and at times we were ostracized for some of our artists not being as artistically talented as other people. In the end, all those guys painted more and are more active in the scene currently than some of these more ‘talented’ hip hop all-stars.
What kind of projects do you like to work on with WHRS Crew?
A: Well like I said, we are all in different cities. We generally like to do the gatherings where everyone just paints and gets together and has a good time. We do work on projects together, but in terms of “art art” it’s more of an individual basis. When we do come together it’s for murals and stuff like that. We do work well together, but it’s often a rarity that we’re all together. It’s more like a family. Everybody’s always part of the group.
I know that a lot of the WHRS Crew is part of the Village Stage at Shambhala Music Festival, and I know that you’re responsible for spearheading the art at the stage. Can you tell me a bit about that?
[quote style=”boxed” float=”right”]I painted one of my robots there that you still find around the Village, and they ended up giving me a ticket.[/quote] A: Well I went to Shambhala in 2002 and like everybody else it blew my mind, and I fell in love with the forest and everything. At that time I couldn’t really stand much electronic music, it was mostly breaks and house all the time. We always had to wait for the half hour of jungle at 5:30 in the morning. So, after my first year I said I really want to get involved. Over the course of the next year I made a good buddy, Jon Bichel, that worked at the stage. I basically snuck myself in early the next year of Shambhala, I think I got in on the Wednesday, and at that time the party didn’t start until Friday. There was no early camping or anything. I had a ticket, and I just painted around the revolving stage. At the time a guy named Dean ran the art, and he just said, ‘don’t paint any hippie shit’. I painted one of my robots there that you still find around the Village, and they ended up giving me a
ticket. I was able to sell mine for $80 and then the next year I was
on the list. It just grew from there.
I took a year off somewhere in there. It all seems like one party to me, I can never differentiate the years. I think it was the year of Z Trip I came back with Pesto and converted him to the world of rave. We basically had a budget of $0 and made something out of nothing and Jeremy offered me a title and some beer, and that’s when I became the Art Director of the Village Stage.
I’ve been going every year since and have added new members of the Art Crew such as Logan Ford and Mikhail Miller and Nate Martin, also Peter Allen. I’ve been doing that every year and trying to get involved as much as possible in various other parties. I’ve started working a lot more for PK and started doing all the stuff for their shows. I’m open to doing other things, but once I get involved with the PK stuff I don’t have a lot of time for anything else. Getting arrested for doing graffiti a lot of times also had a lot to do with me concentrating more on that. I either had to smarten up or risk paying for lawyers for the rest of my life.
You went on the Full Flex Express tour with Skrillex as an Art Director this year, pretty impressive. Did you get that hook up from PK?
A: Yeah, PK was doing the sound and the guys from California asked if they knew any Art Directors, so they sent them a photo from the Village naturally, and that’s all it took. I shot them some ideas, and they loved them, and they asked me to come on the tour. I basically set up the smaller stage, the Koan Sound and TOKiMONSTA stage, and it was a great learning experience. I definitely wouldn’t mind doing that again. I really enjoy the whole atmosphere of the stage show, and getting it set up and taken down. Art school has definitely helped me with that.
You’ve had a lot of really good feedback for your work from the electronic music community. Do you find it easily translates outside of that community? Do you find people get your esthetic?
A: I find my art can bridge most gaps. I guess it all boils back down to my mom again. I would do all these graffiti style paintings with letters and stuff, and my mom would be like ‘it looks nice, but I don’t know what it means. Why don’t you paint a nice bird or something?’ And so I did. I stepped away from the typical graffiti style, because in a way it is kind of elitist. You can have a really awesome graffiti painting, but not everyone can read it. That’s when I started doing my more abstract paintings, still keeping the graffiti style. I guess it’s sort of graffiti without words. I try to bridge it now, keeping my graffiti separate from my art. My graffiti doesn’t look like my fine art.
A: The show is called Graffilthy, it’s at the Endeavour Arts Gallery. It’s showing from October 9 until November 17 at the old Night Gallery for those of us that are old enough to know what that is. It’s another situation where my street art has mingled with my fine art for a show. It is also the first time I’ve really shown my stuff in an actual gallery. Before that it’s always been guerrilla shows. Lots of eviction art shows, coffee shops, basements of hip hop shops and various other rave venues. Also, at Shambhala we have a gallery in the Village. It’s pretty much been that until now.
What other kind of artists are in this show?
A: I guess I’d be one of the few you could consider a ‘fine artist’ if you will. We have various members of Canadian graffiti scene that have put in a large amount of work. We’ve all more or less known each other for the better part of ten years. Some are strictly graffiti guys, some are strictly freight train painters, all of whom have varying careers from lawyers to teachers. I’m now myself going back to school.
You’re back in art school?
A: I’m going to get my Bachelor of Fine Arts so I can have that piece of paper that says I’m an artist. Maybe I’ll go teach English overseas, that’s something I’ve always wanted to do.
Tell me about this studio space of yours we’re in now?
A: It’s a collective studio of five artists. We each have a corner in our secret basement art lair. So far so good, I’ve been able to get a lot of work done here. We’re hoping to do a few small shows here once in awhile, but more or less want to keep the location under the radar. Also graffiti is still illegal, and some of us may have reputations with certain entities of the law. We plan on having a hundred dollar art show the first week of December for Christmas. It’ll be an invite only basis, those that know will know.
To wrap up, what other projects are you working on?
A: Well the guys just had Quake of the Cans in Victoria, a graffiti show out there becoming annual. They’re showcasing various DJs and artists and what not and there’s no sponsors, so it’s a good example of community coming together. Aside from school, my studio and my show there’s not much more right now, but I’m always open for ideas and projects.
A big thanks to Andreas for this glimpse into graffiti culture!
Also, if your in Calgary don’t forget to visit his show at the Endeavor Arts Gallery this week (Oct 9 – Nov 17th).